If you were to sum up the inauguaral Grand Prix in Azerbaijan, you’d have to say Safety Cars, crashes and chaos… were sorely lacking.
HAMmer and tongs; sometimes it goes wrong
After four early wins for Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton clawed back some ground in the Drivers’ Championship with a brace of wins in Monaco and Canada.
It looked like this form would carry over into the Baku race, with Hamilton smashing everyone in all three practice sessions. However, for whatever reason, he just couldn’t get into a rhythm on Saturday afternoon, and almost didn’t make the cut for the end of Q2 when he had a huge lock-up with just a couple of minutes to go.
He got a lap in, but in the twilight of the third and final part of Qualifying, hit the inside wall as he crested the tight turn 8-9-10 section. With a decidedly wonky front end (Ooh er missus) the reigning Champ’ could do nothing more, and the session was red-flagged, resuming for just one last dash to the line…
Yes, with the session resumed, the remaining nine runners exited the pits as quickly as they could. Valtteri Bottas was in no mood to be patient, and tried to race Max Verstappen for track position, but the Finn’s eagerness to get ahead ultimately cost him dearly, and he backed out of the lap.
The remaining eight drivers carried on; most did not improve, save for Sebastian Vettel, who notched a time of 1:43.966 – exactly the same lap time as ex-team mate Daniel Ricciardo.
That wasn’t the only surprise in the session; further down the order, both Manor cars predictably dropped out in Q1, but they were the top two to take the fall, finishing ahead of Jenson Button, Marcus Ericsson, and both Renault drivers.
Then of course, there was the chap who qualified second…
It seems like every time we talk about F1’s top Mexican (forgive me, Esteban) we’re heaping him with praise, and this is no exception. He earned the official F1 Driver of the day award, and the far more prestigious Badger GP TOP DOG, which we’re fairly sure was the foundation for that vote in the first place.
Checo’s Qualifying position may have been slightly fortuitous, given that several drivers were improving when the red flag came out, but it’s a testament to his driving and indeed the team’s low-downfroce philosophy that he put the car on the front row of the grid – especially when you consider his untimely crash at the very end of FP3 which necessitated a new gearbox and a grid penalty.
In the race, Checo kept touch with Kimi Raikkonen during the final part of the race, and even though the Iceman had a penalty anyway and would drop back in the final results, Perez got the move done on-track, a feat he understandably described as more satisfying.
80% of Force India’s podiums have been thanks to Perez now, and for the first time ever, the team have snatched two podiums in the same season. With silly season never far away, we could see a lot of top teams aim to poach Perez once more, but if Force India maintain their recent pace, he may not even want to leave.
The confounding radio restrictions brought in last year, then strengthened at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, prevent race engineers and team members from ‘over-coaching’ drivers. In a nutshell, they can’t be told where on the track they’re losing time, and to whom that time loss is relative.
It also prevents technical coaching, such as telling the driver how to map fuel and when to run in full power, unless it’s an emergency that will break the car.
Two men who were clearly very agitated by this rule in Baku were Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen; the former complaining about looking at his “frickin’ dash all the time”, and the latter saying a lot of other words that begin with the letter F.
It’s a situation that asks a lot of questions really – where does coaching stop and genuinely useful advice begin? Hamilton said it felt like he was running without ERS for some parts of the race, but when he said he would flick everything off and on again (IT Crowd style), race engineer Peter Bonnington was only allowed to say “We don’t advise that”. It led to a huge outcry from Hamilton after the race, labelling the rules a joke, a sentiment that basically every driver agreed with.
Kimi too was frustrated with the lack of info he was allowed to be told, saying “Surely if I suggest things you guys can say yes or no?” but no dice.
Since the radio restrictions came into effect, a small part of entertainment value has been lost. It was all part and parcel of the racing experience, and with F1 constantly trying to ‘improve the show’, this is surely a huge oversight.
The need for speed
Williams yet again proved their amazing pit stop choreography in Baku, with the team servicing Felipe Massa in 1.92 seconds during the race. That equals the record set by Red Bull in the USA in 2013, when Mark Webber’s four tyres were also whipped off and new ones put on in the same time.
Even more impressive, though, was the breaking of a much more amazing record. It’s unofficial as yet, but Valtteri Bottas reached a speed of 234.9MPH/378KPH during Qualifying.
That beats the existing record (set by Juan Pablo Montoya in 2005) of 231.5MPH/372.6KPH recorded at Monza, eleven years and four extra cylinders ago. It goes to show the insane rate of development the current hybrid V6 engines have already gone through. Lap records are beginning to fall, such as when the lap record in Bahrain was smashed earlier this year, the first time the new power units had done so.
Now, it seems the hybrid F1 cars are only getting faster, and if aerodynamics are reduced for 2017 (please) you can expect them to get even faster. With this unofficial record, Bottas really does claim the mantle of Flying Finn.